The Trump administration’s merger plan was criticized by lawmakers in both parties and was eventually blocked by Congress.
Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Michael Rigas told employees of the federal government’s HR agency that the Trump administration is officially abandoning its controversial effort to merge the agency with the General Services Administration.
In an email to OPM employees obtained by Government Executive, Rigas said officials are now focused on maintaining the agency’s independence.
“As you know, the administration proposed the merger to address the financial and other challenges facing OPM, and as a way to strengthen the agency’s IT posture and address other longstanding operational and modernization challenges,” Rigas wrote. “As Congress has not acted on the administration’s legislative proposal, we are no longer devoting time and energy to the merger and are focused on ensuring OPM can function as a standalone personnel agency for the federal government.”
Rigas said the agency is conducting an “independent analysis . . . to help inform how OPM can best carry out its mission and meet the needs of the American people.”
Then-acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert formally proposed the plan, which would have placed federal personnel policy under the responsibility of a White House position not subject to Senate confirmation, in May 2019. Federal employee unions quickly mounted opposition, fearing that moving personnel policy from an independent agency into the White House would be detrimental to the civil service.
The proposal was largely panned by lawmakers, as members of both parties flagged OPM’s unwillingness to provide documentation regarding the development of the plan or any cost benefit analyses underlying the decision. In July, the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced it would investigate whether officials lied to Congress about whether they had completed a legal analysis of the proposal, after a watchdog report revealed that the administration had received verbal recommendations that the plan likely was not legal.
Ultimately, Congress blocked implementation of the merger as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, ordering the administration to pause its efforts until the National Academy of Public Administration could conduct a year-long study on the future of OPM.
Despite Congress’ lack of appetite for the merger proposal, officials maintained that the NAPA study would vindicate the plan. In the meantime, the agency transferred the staff for the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to GSA and was accused on multiple occasions of trying to subvert the ban on implementation.
In April, lawmakers found that the administration continued to pursue efforts to transfer operations of OPM’s headquarters back to GSA. And in August, a union representing OPM employees accused the agency of reorganizing employees to get around the ban.